Wednesday 20 January 2016

Library Louts!

I first posted this blog a couple of years ago because I was so angry at the closures of public libraries, in particular several branch libraries in the London Borough of Brent, where I started my career. Now that this vile government has cut local government grant cuts to the bone and beyond, leading to more closures, I am still angry.

My first encounter with books was via the local library in Welwyn Garden City, my home town. Dumped in the children's library, age 4, I selected a book from the box (in those days all picture books had the same plain library covers). I opened it up and there was Orlando, the Marmalade Cat, his Dear Wife Grace and their three kittens, Pansy, Blanche and mischievous Tinkle.

Apart from starting my well known love of cats, it also started me on the path to reading, which led me, in time, to become a writer. My parents did not consider buying books for young children as a necessity, as many parents for a variety of reasons, still don't. Without the books I borrowed each week, my life would have been impoverished.

As I said at the outset, I started off my library career in the 1970's working for Brent Libraries, and knew all the six libraries that have been shut very well. Many served poor, ethnically diverse communities and were used by people who could not afford to buy books for themselves, or for their children. The staff were treated with the utmost respect by locals, who valued what we offered and what we represented. I vividly recall being beckoned to the front of a long queue in the local Caribbean greengrocer - the owner succinctly informing the rest of the line that: 'this is the Liberian lady - she got to get back to work!'

Here in Hertfordshire, our libraries have recently been 're-structured to meet the needs of the modern user'. As far as I can see, this means they shut at odd times, just when you want to borrow a pile of books, and far too much space is now given over to desks of computers, at which people sit and dicker all day. Mainly playing mindless games. Books? Nah, don't need them. Got to move with the times. Books are relegated to fewer and fewer shelves.

I find it hard to put into words how upset I was at the disclosure that Kensal Rise library had all its books carted off in the middle of the night by Brent Council workers. The furtive and underhand way in which this wicked deed - sorry, I find no other words to express it - took place, resonates with all those other occasions in the past when the banning, or burning of books has marked a civilization in crisis, or steep decline.

The playwright and novelist Michael Frayn has commented of the closure of Brent's Kensal Rise library: ''They took the books out and the plaque down? So the library is now an unlibrary, in the way that people became unpersons in the darkest days of the Soviet Union. I hope they took the titles of the books off as well. Removing unbooks from an unlibrary - who could possibly object?''

I do.


  1. Oh Carol, what a sad,sad situation. I too spent the best part of every Saturday afternoon in the library when I was a child. I also read Orlando the Marmalade Cat, as well as Thomas the Tank Engine, and many many others sitting on a carpet on the floor in the library. We also had bins of books, and I just loved going there. I can hardly bear the thought local libraries are disappearing. I rarely go to the library here in Rotterdam because it is as you've just described - more computers and 'study' areas than books. They seem to be an afterthought.

  2. I worked in my local library for six years until it too closed down. This was before computers were everywhere. The truth is it wasn't being used. We had our regulars and they were devastated but they just wasn't enough borrowing to make it viable. Now I'm on the other side of the city I only visit the library for my writing class and I never see many people looking for books just computers being used.

  3. “It’s hard to understand the impact of these cuts when you’re well-off, have easy access to the internet and can buy the books you want. But for millions of poor families, jobseekers and people with disabilities a library is a lifeline.” (Nick Poole of CILIP). I hope you and your readers will consider (if you haven't already) signing CILIP's petition. Details here:
    Thank you!

  4. I loved being taken to the library as a child. I know kids have more stimuli these days but this was such an innocent pleasure and educating to boot! The actions of Brent Council made me think of book burning too. *shudder*

  5. I can't even imagine how miserable my childhood would have been without a library. Then, as a writer, all the pleasant hours of research...indeed a tragic trend. Thanks, Carol.


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